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Welcome to the Crawl

Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out. 

This week, we are talking about how Christian theology has sometimes given credence to modern capitalism and the unjust valuation of different forms of human labor. We will then explore the Christian idea of vocation and what it might offer us as we seek to create more just economic systems.

Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.

HISTORY: MAX WEBERS’S THE PROTESTANT ETHIC & THE SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM

Max Weber is considered one of the founders of the field of sociology, and especially sociology of religion. Published in 1905, his groundbreaking work The Protestant Ethic & the Spirit of Capitalism argued that Protestant piety and theology contributed to the growth of modern capitalism.The below video offers an overview of Weber’s argument.

An Introduction to Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic – A Macat Sociology Analysis

THE MAIN QUESTIONS

Historical / Theological Questions

  • What do you think of the overall shape of this argument? Do you think there is a link between Protestant ideas and capitalism?
  • Weber argued that Luther’s conception of a calling, or vocation, emphasized the value of working hard at the task God assigned to you. 
    • Do you agree with this definition? Why or why not?
    • Do you think this viewpoint is still active or important for today? Why or why not?
  • Weber argued that predestination created anxiety as one could not be assured of their salvation, and that the accumulation of wealth assuaged this anxiety as it was proof of hard work. 
    • Do you agree or disagree with this argument? Why or why not?
    • Do you think this viewpoint is still active or important for today? Why or why not?
  • Assuming Weber is not totally wrong, what might be some of the corollary beliefs to this argument? For example, how would the ascetic Protestant ethic explain things like: poverty, wage gaps, economic inequality?

Contemporary Questions

  • From a theological perspective, what is the purpose of work? Explain.
  • How do you think the current economic system attributes value to work? Is this morally acceptable? Why or why not?
  • What is a “vocation” and do all people have one? Explain.
  • Read the below section on Luther’s conception of vocation. How does Luther’s concept of vocation differ from modern conceptions of work or employment? 
  • Where might a healthy theology of vocation affirm/challenge modern economic employment practices? Explain.
  • What does it mean to be an “essential” worker. What philosophy/theology undergirds this designation?

THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS: LUTHER’S CONCEPT OF VOCATION & THE THREE ESTATES*

According to Luther, humans have multiple callings, or vocations. Each of these relate to the three estates that God created for human life:

  • The Household. This refers to the family, including its economic labor by which it supports itself. Marriage, becoming a father or mother, being a son or daughter, are all vocations. In Luther’s late-medieval economy, most work—whether that of peasant farms, middle class crafts, or the nobility’s political rule—were all based in families and usually conducted at home. But our family relationships constitute our most important vocations.
  • The Church. All Christians are called by the Gospel. God also “calls” pastors. Also elders, other church workers, and all other members, each of whom has a part to play in the congregation.
  • The State. We find ourselves in a certain time and place, under certain political jurisdictions, part of a certain culture. This is part of our “assignment” in which we are to live our Christian lives. Our citizenship is a vocation. We are called to our local communities, our nation, our surrounding culture. Christians are free to participate in the political life of their countries, as well as to hold public offices. We thus have vocations even in the “secular” arena, which is where Christians interact with non-believers and function as salt and light in the world.

*Adapted from Gene Edward Veith, “The Doctrine of Vocation,” The Gospel Coalition.

IMPORTANT SCRIPTURE

  • Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, // Ephesians 4:1
  • Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; // Hebrews 3:1
  • Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. // 1 Corinthians 7:17-24
  • Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, // Colossians 3:23

THOUGHTS FROM OTHERS

  • Every person, of every degree, state, sex, or condition without exception, must have some personal and particular calling to walk in. // William Perkins
  • All vocations are intended by God to manifest His love in the world. // Thomas Merton
    • I think we can measure the distance we have fallen from the idea that work is a vocation to which we are called, by the extent to which we have come to substitute the word “employment” for “work.” We say we must solve the “problem of unemployment” — we reckon up how many “hands” are “employed”; our social statistics are seldom based upon the work itself — whether the right people are doing it, or whether the work is worth doing. // Dorothy Sayers
    • Calvinist believers were psychologically isolated. Their distance from God could only be precariously bridged, and their inner tensions only partially relieved, by unstinting, purposeful labor. // Max Weber
    • If now we could have faith enough to believe that all human life can be with divine purpose; that God saves not only the soul, but the whole of human life; that anything which serves to make men healthy, intelligent, happy, and good is a service to the Father of men; that the kingdom of God is not bounded by the Church, but includes all human relations — then all professions would be hallowed and receive religious dignity. A man making a shoe or arguing a law case or planting potatoes or teaching school, could feel that this was itself a contribution to the welfare of mankind, and indeed his main contribution to it. // Walter Rauschenbusch
    • In fact, the summum bonum of his ethic, the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life, is above all completely devoid of any eudaemonistic, not to say hedonistic, admixture. It is thought of so purely as an end in itself, that from the point of view of the happiness of, or utility to, the single individual, it appears entirely transcendental and absolutely irrational. Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs. This reversal of what we should call the natural relationship, so irrational from a naive point of view, is evidently as definitely a leading principle of capitalism as it is foreign to all peoples not under capitalistic influence. // Max Weber

    RESOURCES

    FROM LAST WEEK: PATRIARCHY AND WHITE SUPREMACY

    Note from the Crawlfather: During last week’s discussion of protest, there was a short discussion about whether or not the Church, specifically the Church in the United States, is rooted in patriarchy and white supremacy. Theology Crawl has always been about the exchange and debate of ideas about important and even controversial subjects. Sadly, we did not have time to discuss this more. Thankfully, Lauren Renfro has provided a bit of context to the discussion and some resources that can be used to help familiarize oneself with the ideas. In true Crawl tradition, the list she provided has not been redacted (though I did add a few more) and the perspectives of the author’s are entirely their own. Some resources might challenge you, some you might disagree with, and some might even change your mind (egads!). Thank you, Lauren for sending this list and providing your unique voice. May God’s Spirit lead all of us into truth.

    A Response and Some Context for the Resources, by Lauren Renfro

    Saying that the Church is rooted in patriarchy and white supremacy is not doing the Church a disservice. Though Christianity is diverse around the world, the existence of segregated churches in places like the United States illustrate that white supremacy has had a long lasting impact. 

    In trying to deny this history, we employ, what I call, a “not all churches” approach. This understandable gut reaction says, “Well, my church is good,” or “There’s lots of others that do good work.” These responses, however, avoid dealing with the underlying problems and may even shut down discussions about important issues. Again, this reaction is understandable, especially when the language is new or unfamiliar. Moreover, when one benefits from the system in power, it’s difficult to recognize the insidious ways in which oppressive systems manifest themselves. For example, a church may have a woman preaching. This is wonderful, but this fact doesn’t mean that sexism, rooted in patriarchy, does not exist in that church or that it does not need to be addressed further.

    A “not all churches”  approach fails to recognize the systemic and institutional nature of the capital-C Church. Through an institutional perspective, we can explore the ways the American Church experience diverges from the ideal church that fights for the downtrodden, uplifts the poor, and liberates the oppressed. The examples that such an approach can highlight are legion:

    • The history of the translation of the Bible brings up important questions, like: Who translated it? and How does the masculine normative language impact the way women-identified people interact with the text? 
    • The history of evangelical outreach is littered with white saviorism, which develops out of white supremacist and patriarchal ideals.
    • The history of Christians’ engagement with secular governments shows that legislation often privileges normative Christian morality over science and equality.
    • Prevailing Church norms continue to deny women/minorities/queer people access to the abundance of God.

    Many people often fail to see these effects because they benefit from the systems of power and occupy positions of authority in the status quo. This gives them a vested interest in maintaining those systems, and so they are often less likely to call out these divergences and do the reconciliatory work necessary.

    The real disservice to the Church is in failing to call out the intersectional systems of oppression that corrupt it.

    Resources

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